Two Americans driving back to El Paso, Tex., last December after an afternoon across the border in Ciudad Juarez found themselves in the middle of Mexico's drug war, alleging torture and police corruption from behind foreign bars, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.
Mexico's military said it found two suitcases full of marijuana in the cab of the Americans' pickup truck. Two soldiers later testified that they drove the two Americans to a military compound on the outskirts of town, questioned them briefly, then turned them over to civilian authorities. The Americans were charged with possession of marijuana with intent to sell.
Shohn Huckabee, 23, and Carlos Quijas, 36, who are being held in a Ciudad Juarez jail, said Mexican soldiers planted the marijuana in their truck. When they arrived at the military base, they said, they were blindfolded, tied up, hit with rifle butts, shocked with electricity and threatened with death.
Complaints about the military's tactics have risen along with the death toll as authorities try to break the drug cartels' stranglehold on Mexican society. The human rights office of the state of Chihuahua, where Ciudad Juarez is located, is investigating some 465 cases of alleged abuse and torture of Mexican citizens by soldiers. Gustavo de la Rosa, the office's ombudsman in Ciudad Juarez, said he knows of about 70 cases in which soldiers are alleged to have planted evidence, including some involving suitcases packed with marijuana.
Allegations of mistreatment of suspects caught the eye of the U.S. Senate committee that oversees financial aid to Mexico for its war on drugs. In an internal report, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said it received allegations of serious human rights violations in Ciudad Juarez last year.
The report cites an unidentified young man picked up in El Paso who said he was arrested by the Mexican military in Ciudad Juarez and beaten and shocked. The man said he was released after the military concluded he had no useful information about trafficking, the report says.
Huckabee said he was subjected to similar tactics. "I believe what was done to me was torture," he said in an interview. "When I did not answer their questions, they shocked me with a wire that was in my hands. My whole body froze up. The pain went from bearable to a point where I couldn't even talk."
Mexican prosecutors said the two men were caught red-handed. Two soldiers involved in their arrest testified at their trial that they counted 99 packages of marijuana in the suitcases, weighing more than 100 pounds.
In a written response to questions from The Wall Street Journal, the Mexican army said it briefly took the Americans to the military compound but did not torture them. "We categorically deny that soldiers use these methods, and say their actions are in total adherence to the law," the statement said.